SWIMMING ABOUT WITH THE BUTANDINGS


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April 1st 2011
Published: May 7th 2011
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1: Butanding encounter 39 secs
Took a taxi to Ermita from the airport, the driver asked for 250PHP claiming his meter is not calibrated yet, we have to go to the departure lounge to get a cheaper taxi, anyhoo I bargained for 200PHP and off we go being dropped off at Cagsawa bus office. We got the last 3 seats for the 7pm bus to Legazpi. It's only 3pm so we walked to Robinson's mall to chill while leaving our big bags at the bus company office. We left on time, heavy traffic out of Manila, Celine Dion live in Vegas is playing in the movie screen, painful to watch, a relief when they shut it. Like any buses in Asia it seems they only have 2 settings, off and on, and on means 18 celsius, so we donned our winter garb and hoped for the best, impossible to turn off the air outlet from the top of my head we suffered as we plow through the Bicol region in 9 hours. Stopping maybe 2 times for a break we arrived at 4:30am in Legazpi only to be told the vans don't run for Donsol until 9am so a trike driver suggested he drives us to a town called Daraga near a Shell gas station where we can catch a jeep to Donsol, 120 PHP for the 3 of us a 20 minute ride. We found the jeep right away and we waited for 1/2 hour to fill up and off we go, painfully slow as we keep stopping and we have to stop at Pilar first then to Donsol, arriving in town we got off and took yet another trike to get to the beach and near the registration office, we found accommodation at Villa Jolee hotel, a 5 minute walk to the Tourist office, we made a deal for the 3 person room, a/c with en suite toilet for 1,300 PHP, everything is full apparently, this being a Sunday. We stopped by the tourist office and its full of tourists, mostly rich locals from Manila, we registered and went back to our place for a well needed sleep.

Late lunch at Elysia hotel, good food for a good price. Then went back via the beach and chilled with San Miguel. Fireflies for the evening as we went on a trip along Donsol river to see these little creatures, at the foot of the bridge we signed up for the tour, they were very organized, they assigned us a boat and a guide, 5 maximum/boat. We obviously did not have lights on the boat as we slowly make our way out farther away from town and skimmed the banks of the river for fireflies, we saw a few boats congregated at some trees then suddenly a big gathering of tour boats on the left bank, thousands of fireflies glittering a tree like christmas lights, they sway in the wind, so beautiful! Our guide explained to us that these insects are carnivores and that their source of food are snails that hang around these trees. I tried to take fotos and videos to no avail, all I get is black background, so I gave up and enjoyed the display of lights from the wonderful unassuming flies. We moved on to another spot and then one more before we went back in, all in all a great experience.

Next morning we got up at 6am readied our selves for a snorkel of a lifetime, with the whale sharks!! had a quick breakfast at our hotel Villa Jolee then we walked to the tourist office, The booking office was still closed and Till was the 1st one at the queue when it did open at 5 past 7am. A french couple from our hotel joined us to make 5 in a group, 6 is max. Till hollers to me we are at the 2nd batch at 10:30am! boat #16, out of 30! wtf?! I thought, we are the 1st in the queue and yet we get a crap schedule. I went and inquired, when we registered the day before we were told to come back at 7am the next morning which is now, why the hell can't we get the 1st boat out when we are the very 1st on the queue? The lady behind the counter explained oh it was pre booked( the 1st batch) so we have to wait for the 2nd. I was pissed and told her they are not giving all the info that a tourist should know, if they offered us to pre book our boats yesterday we would have done so, we have no clue how the rules go, such inept and inconsiderate staff, all they can do is offer their apologies. Well we have to settle for what we got in the end. Fuming, we walked back to the hotel. The owner told me that it is common for the tourists office to have arguments with the tourists as they are very disorganized, and apparently the 1st batch bookings were mostly from big hotels who gets priorities over others, that riled me up some more, bureaucracy and red tape rules again!

To make a long story short at 10am we went back to the tourist office, we got approached by our boat guide and off we go. The guide explained all the rules to us as we head off towards the sea, whale sharks are wild, sightings are not 100% sometimes you see nada, yada yada.. not 5 minutes on the trip he yelled to us to put on our snorkels and fins and sit on the right side of the boat! nervously excited, we watch as a boat before us were in the middle of interaction with the gentle giants,we can see a dark shadow below them and a dorsal fin!!! we went ahead of the whale sharks, 6 or 7 boats also around the area, well so much for the 1 boat per whale shark policy!! Well they don't crowd though, the other boats wait at the other end, waiting for the sharks to pass by them, jump!! our guide yells! we did and all I see is blue. We stayed close to him, then he screamed look down! omg! the biggest fish I have ever seen it made a pass underneath me slowly, I saw it's huge mouth along with some remora fish tagging alongside it, as it went past me I almost hit the tail so have to swim away! Then we swam with it, boy it was tiring to keep up with this fella, he is massive, about 7 meters, the guide told us later. Our 1st encounter lasted maybe a minute and it's gone for the other boats to feast on, we stop at a certain point to give others a chance to see it which is fair.

Back on the boat but not 5 minutes later we jumped again, and again a 3rd time following the same fish, but this one swims quickly and we were all exhausted trying to keep up with it. So the next encounter we went farther out to sea , we can see a huge black shadow from a distance, it's huge and we were told to get ready as we sat anxiously on the right side of the boat, our guide ordered us to jump and swam closer to the butanding and was told to look down, this one is about 9 meters and is a little bit slow so we swam with it for a good 5 minutes! I try not to be at the tail so I don't get whacked, despite the people swimming around it, the butanding seems oblivious, minding it's own business while 2 or 3 remora fish swim with it.

In total we jumped in the water maybe 14 times and we saw 5 different butandings, the last 2 were smaller about 4 to 5 meters we were all exhausted but elated at the chance of encountering these gentle giants. We were out for only 2 hours but decided to go back to shore as we were all tired from swimming trying to keep up with the whale sharks. Occasionally our guide would dive down and look under to see the gender of the fish, he said they give birth to about 300+ babies but maybe only 5 to 8 will survive in the wild, Donsol is their breeding ground and they time their appearance here when there's abundance of the tiny fish that they eat here, the water is not very clear, a bit cloudy and perhaps because it's teeming with plankton and tiny fish in which they feed upon, hence the reason why they are here.

Back to the Villa Jolee where we are staying, we had a luscious lunch of adobo of big squid they call here"tamisan" . I ended up chatting with a guy named Edwin who was kind enough to help us plan a possible hike to Mayon in Legazpi. We packed our stuff and waited for a shuttle van going back to town that dropped off tourists at resorts but there was none so we have to get a trike to town and grab the van that plies the Legaspi route. But we got lucky, a white car just park in the yard and asked us where we are headed to, this dude just dropped off tourists at Amor beach and we made a deal with him to give us a lift to the city for 500 PHP between the 3 of us, door to door service. I am glad to leave Donsol with a great experience having seen the butandings finally, 6 or so years ago I came here and we saw none. I definitely want to come back in the future!


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our messy roomour messy room
our messy room

Villa Jollee
walking around Donsolwalking around Donsol
walking around Donsol

Till and Mattias
butanding spottingbutanding spotting
butanding spotting

people swimming to catch up with the fish


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